Top 5 Reflections from TWIN Global by Cameron Smith, Bennett Day School CEO

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The image capturing the spirit of TWIN: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich, 1818, Hamburger Kunsthalle

by Cameron Smith 

A 2020 presidential candidate; the founder of Moon Express; and the author of The Facebook Effect… These are just a few of the fascinating people I met at TWIN Global 2018 in Chicago.  I also learned about the coming “symbiosis between machine intelligence and human creativity” — the Humachine! — from the head of SAP’s Innovation Center in Germany.  Mind. Blown.

This was my first time attending TWIN ( The World Innovation Network) — “an invitation-only community of innovation and growth leaders from across sectors and geographies”.  It is headed by its Chairman and Co-Founder, Professor Robert Wolcott of the Kellogg School of Management.  The theme of TWIN Global 2018 was Horizons: Re-envisioning Business, Society, and Self in the 21st Century.

As a PK-12 school founder and the CEO at Bennett Day School in Chicago, with “exponential times” now clearly staring down our students, I was enthralled and inspired to be in company with luminaries gathered from across the globe.  Here are my Top 5 Reflections from this year’s TWIN Global Summit:

1) We must shift from ‘Learn, Do, Retire’ to ‘Learn, Do; Learn, Do; Rest; Repeat’.

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I first attended a session on Automation and the Future of Work.  About thirty people were gathered from around the world with expertise in artificial intelligence, human capital and talent, big data, and more.  There are 133 million roles that will be created by artificial intelligence, but 75 million will be displaced by 2022.  With technology advancing more quickly every day, our K12 students need to be prepared to be lifelong learners, constantly retraining themselves.  You can’t just go to school, PreK to 20 (through college), and expect that knowledge to last a lifetime. Those days are gone!_x000c_

Session leaders here included Ravin Jesuthasan, Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson / co-author of Reinventing Jobs; Gary Bolles, Chairman of Singularity University; and Chris Gebhardt of Stir Strategy and Story.

2) Know Thy Purpose.

Most of us have gazed up at the stars at some point and wondered in a greater sense, “Why?”  Bring that search for meaning down to your day-to-day as you go about your work or daily routine.  Some of us seek purpose in our work and seek to impact society more broadly.  An example shared by a delegate was AirBnB: the mission at AirBnB is to democratize travel, not just to enable people to make income renting out a spare bedroom.  In the context of Bennett Day School, our purpose is to advance creativity and innovation in education while cultivating lifelong learners and leaders.  That relates to #1 above too.

3) Don’t confuse Activity with Productivity.

This reflection is from Harry Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter: Don’t confuse activity with productivity.  It is easy these days to get buried in email or distracted by device notifications.  You might feel productive getting through those, but if you actually paused each day to think about what went well, what didn’t, and what you wanted to accomplish tomorrow, you’d more effectively set yourself up for success.  Harry said he has been doing that nightly for over 30 years and it has made an impactful difference.

I connected with this reflection by Harry Kraemer, and those shared earlier by Gary Bolles in our Future of Work session.  We keep a digital portfolio of our students’ work at Bennett Day, allowing us to pause and reflect on where they’ve been in order to know where we venture together next.  Even more to the point, we focus on project-based, competency-based education versus seat time.  We don’t confuse activity with productivity in our learning organization.  Those two things need to be unbundled in education.

4) Non-Experts Disrupt Industries.

This reflection comes from Naveen Jain, the founder of Intelius and Infospace, who is currently the founder of Moon Express and Viome.  Naveen is working on big ideas, including mining minerals from outer space and ‘making illness optional’.  He said that he has been able to make an impact in many different sectors because he is a non-expert who can change and challenge the status quo.  You still need experts of course to assess where you’ve been; to identify the problems in the way of change; and then to be part of the team to go make change happen.

I connected with this reflection much in the way I started Bennett Day School, at first as a non-expert in education.  I’d never worked in a school. While I had been a private equity investor in the education sector, I knew that I wanted real-world, learning-by-doing for my kids, and I wouldn’t rest until I had created that.  Contrary to Naveen’s comments, at least in my own experience, experts will come along for the journey once the path and resources become clear to pursue a different or better way to do something, but getting experts on board in developing that path is key.

5) Education Needs a Reboot.

The chat on Artificial Life by Steen Rasmussen with Kristina Korsholm was fascinating.  In the same way your arm heals from a cut, what if you tore your jacket sleeve and it could repair itself because it was made of non-living material with properties we associate with life, like self-repair?  Or just think, could we eliminate pollution if even synthetic waste could decompose like organic matter?

Steen said, ‘schools and universities need to reinvent themselves as they were from when we were farmers and industrial workers’.  No doubt, if we want to be prepared for advances like he has in mind. The traditional school algorithm treating students as vessels to be filled with a set body of knowledge is outdated.  Graduates will encounter a different world outside the classroom that no longer values test scores and quantitative measures of achievement as highly as creativity and independent thought.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 6.15.28 AM In another session, Stephanie Pace-Marshall, the founder of Illinois Math and Science Academy, reminded us, “don’t build a school, build ‘a lab for imagination and curiosity” — I loved that.  At Bennett Day in Chicago, we are reinventing even what it means to be a lab in the K12 realm via a partnership with Northwestern University to further K12 research and development together alongside our students and teachers.  The schools and universities that Steen mentioned need to work together — that is an important last reflection for me that relates to the Horizons theme from TWIN Global.  We cannot compartmentalize K12 education, post-secondary, and work.  Let’s reboot them, together.